No, really: The food's edible now
The dining scene in London and some favorite restaurantsPart of an old joke about European stereotypes goes that in heaven the English are police, but in hell they're the cooks.
Although you can still get pub grub lousy enough to curl your toenails, British cuisine has improved remarkably over the past decade. Not only have they started paying attention to the quality of old-fashioned dishes, but London's top chefs have also adopted and adapted numerous culinary techniques and ingredients from around the world and mixed them with a dash of time-honored tradition to create Modern British cuisine.
Add to this London's variety of ethnic restaurants—locals go out for Indian the way we go out for Chinese—and you won't ever have to touch steak and kidney pie unless you want to.
Some typical British dishes to look for
Reid's Favorite Restaurants
Belgo Centraal (Belgian)
Cafe Spice Namaste (Indian)
Fox & Anchor (pub breakfast)
Chor Bizarre (Indian)
Porter's English Restaurant (English)
Malabar Junction (Indian)
Worth the splurge
The Ivy (continental)
Joe Allens (English/American)
Gay Hussar (Hungarian)
Gordon Ramsey (Modern British)
» Fish 'n' chips
» Afternoon Tea
» Pub grub
When you're not dining high on modern innovations, Britain still has a formidable array of time-tested dishes for you to try. The ploughman's lunch is a hunk of bread, a chunk of cheese, butter, pickle (relish), and chutney.
The two most familiar of the many meat pies you'll run into are Cornish pasty (beef, potatoes, onions, and carrots baked in a pastry shell) and shepherd's pie (lamb and onions stewed under a lid of mashed potatoes—if they use beef, it's called cottage pie). The English are masters of roast beef, which is often served with Yorkshire pudding (a popover-like concoction cooked under the meat joint so the juices drip into it).
Then there are the truly oddly named British dishes, such as bangers and mash (sausages, of which the best are Cumberland, and mashed potatoes), bubble-and-squeak (which sounds like boiled mice but is actually fried cabbage and potatoes), or toad in the hole, what we call pigs-in-a-blanket. The Brits also do good game dishes, especially pheasant and grouse. Fans of fresh fish will enjoy London's cod, whitefish, haddock, herrings, and the mighty Dover sole. Fish 'n' chips (fried fish with french fries) is a greasy delight, and oysters from Colchester can also be fabulous.
Several of London's museums and sights have extremely good cafeterias or restaurants on the premises, so you don't have to leave them at lunchtime. You might want to plan on a meal in the Tate, National Gallery, or St-Martin-in-the-Fields church (where you get to eat in the crypt atop tomb slabs).
Traditional English breakfasts—scarce in these days of the continental croissant-and-coffee—are tasty, but massive on the cholesterol counter: ham and/or sausage, fried eggs, and fried tomatoes alongside toast or scones with butter and jam. Even better is the afternoon tea ritual.
If the Brits excel at anything edible, it's their cheeses and desserts. Of the former, blue-veined Stilton is the king, best enjoyed with a glass of port wine. Lots of regional delicacies pop up on the cheese board as well, one of the most famous being cheddar.
The most discriminating diners shop for their picnic delicacies in the gourmet food departments of Harrods at 87–135 Brompton Rd. or Fortnum and Mason at 181 Piccadilly. Marks & Spencer, at 458 Oxford St., has a cheaper grocery department for less fancy staplesIf you prefer your meal to end with something sweet, English puddings are some of the best desserts around. Trifle is sponge cake soaked with brandy, smothered in fruit or jam, and topped with custard. Light cream whipped with fresh fruit is called a fool, and a treacle pudding is a steamed trifle without the sherry and with syrup instead of fruit.
Wash down your meal with a pint of bitter—but make sure it's a proper English ale and not a wimpy import or lager. A few of the most widely available are listed under the pub section.